The remake of "Endless Love" has a thing for "Say Anything." This new picture also opens at a high school graduation. Its focus is also on an overbearing father struggling with the fact that his daughter’s scholarly focus is being diverted by a boy. One of its last shots even has its two been-through-hell lovers seated comfortably on an airplane. The allusions are not subtle.
"Say Anything" came out 25 years ago, and if it has aged well, that’s thanks to a delicately applied sense of nuance. It’s not a generalized picture -- it’s seemingly ripped from real feelings and events, complete with all their weird specificity. Cusack’s Lloyd Dobbler, almost a proto-2000s-era-thoroughly-subcultured-hipster, is laden with strange tics. Lloyd was a contradiction, confident in his own skin while being aware of his own awkwardness. What I’m saying with this is that "Say Anything" was more than just a product pumped out to rule the box office on the weekend of a greeting card holiday.
"Endless Love" isn’t more than that, it is just a product. It’s here, almost cynically, on Valentine’s Day, bearing cards full of schmaltzy prose, offering us cut-rate chocolate, providing a cheap date to the romantically inclined.
This "Endless Love," directed by Shana Feste, is an unfaithful remake of a already-unfaithful novel adaptation, meaning Hollywood has spent 30 years -- and God knows how many writers -- massaging all instances of individuality or danger out of the narrative. (We’ll get to that later.) As the plot stands now, massaged out, Alex Pettyfer’s David is introduced to us in love, from afar, with the unattainable-and-vaguely-uncool-but-ridiculously-gorgeous Jade. (Let’s ignore the fact that Pettyfer, who’s playing an 18-year-old, is now 22, and, with his Disney-Prince chin, looks at least 26.) She’s going to a big-time medical internship, but his bad-boy looks, his job as a mechanic, his gruff-romantic attitude -- they all give her other ideas.
Give this movie "credit" for one thing, maybe, if you like subverted stereotypes: Here’s a high school romance where the guy wants to take it slow, and the woman is basically all, "No, forget that taking-it-slow nonsense, we should fuck right now." That’s not a pleasant development to her father Hugh, though, who’s been helicopter-parenting closer than ever since the death of his first son, which is left undepicted, having occurred prior to the film’s open. Bruce Greenwood fills the role of Hugh, and try as the veteran actor might, there’s no character to play underneath all the B-movie villainy. This "Love"’s Hugh is a sniveling, scheming bad guy, his actions so slimy and unambiguously amoral that you find the character is in desperate need of a mustache to twirl.
Hugh manipulates David into violence, he digs up ugly moments in his past, he insults the boy’s family without provocation. In short, the character becomes the bad guy in a romance paperback; indeed, he becomes a knock-off of an antagonist from any Nicholas Sparks novel. The complete lack of moral judgment offered to him robs him of any interest he might offer to viewers. You get the feeling that if the script could get away with it, it would’ve had Hugh shoot the kid.
What’s lacking here -- and completely lacking, as in, nonexistent -- is a sense of nuance. There’s actually an inkling of a provocative and affecting movie below the surface here. That would be a movie about a father so wracked with grief that he bubbles up his entire family and sends everyone around him deeper into madness as a result. That’s not the movie Shana wants to make, though. This "Love" deftly avoids offering Hugh any sense of his own humanity. He’s a MacGuffin, vilely placing obstacles in the lovers’ path, for no reason other than so David and Jade can plow through them, proving their fictional romance as true, so that, if the plan succeeds, it’ll send a wave of bubbly feelings throughout the audience.
Are there parallels to "Say Anything" here? To John Mahoney’s controlling depiction of the father character in that film, to the images, to the character arcs, to the emotions produced by that film’s payoff? Sure, the parallels are there, and that is what "Endless Love" is aiming for. But those parallels aren’t imbued with any of their own specificity, they’re just that, empty parallels. Feste can copy "Say Anything," but the director has nothing personal to put in the place of that picture’s weirdness, in place of the specifics that get lost in translation. The nuance has been deleted, and what’s left is warmed-over romance-genre standards. This movie isn’t more than a product. It’s not the second coming of Cameron Crowe; it’s far from it. It’s his work, re-heated and Sparks-ified.